A MAN WHO WEARS MANY HATS
“There is a saying in Neustadt: If Horst comes towards you, better cross on over to the other side of the street,” he says laughing while lighting his pipe, “because he surely has a job for you!” One may wonder what tasks are even left to do that Horst Brettel hasn’t tackled yet. He helped to set up the first of the HER(R)BERGSKIRCHE projects in 2017 and still greets many of the guests personally as they arrive. Aside from that, Brettel has been a member of the parish church council since 2001 and was a member of the district synod until 2019. He served as chairman of the church district's finance committee and as president as well. He also served as deputy mayor for ten years. And, he founded the Neustadt am Rennsteig community interest group. The goal: to make the rural village as livable as possible against all odds. “I lack the gene to say no,” he says, sitting on a bench in the garden of St. Michael's Church in the late summer sun. And yup, you guessed it, he happens to be the caretaker of that garden too.
But a wave of change has already reached the people living in the slate houses above the valley of the little river Schleuse.
A place like Neustadt am Rennsteig, although surrounded by idyllic nature, requires energy and care to keep things afloat. Volunteers can always be found to lend a helping hand. But a wave of change has already reached the people living in the slate houses above the valley of the little river Schleuse. After a long period of rapid population decline, birthrates and death rates have balanced out. Young families are moving in, but the fabric of the village community has come apart in many places. The AFD (Alternative for Germany, a right wing political party) candidate received more than a third of the votes in the village in the last state election, and that bothers Brettel enormously.
By now, Brettel has realized that he doesn’t have the gene to say no, but he possesses another rare gift to balance it out, and that is knowing when to let go of responsibilities.
Although the village is one of a few communities located right on the Rennsteig hiking trail which runs directly in front of St. Michael's Church, it is still a somewhat peripheral and remote location. The year 1989 can be said to have shaped many biographies, Horst Brettel’s included. Originally from Coburg in Upper Franconia, he met his current partner shortly after the Berlin wall fell. Brettel, who was a systems programmer, decided to move to her home in Rennsteig in 1996 - and ended up in Neustadt. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy. It took him a few years to settle into the village and the local community. “When you come to a region like this from the former West, you very quickly get the reputation of being a ‘Besserwessi’, a sort of arrogant, know it all Westerner. Every year at the Parish fair, I was happy to get acquainted with a few more people.” So was he taking on responsibilities in order to integrate himself into his surroundings? No, says Brettel. “Challenges are what motivate me.” By now, Brettel has realized that he doesn't have the gene to say no, but he possesses another rare gift to balance it out, and that is knowing when to let go of responsibilities. As chairman of the Neustadt-Altenfeld parish association, however, his free time continues to be well filled and the sustainable development of the Her(R)berg Church remains a matter close to his heart. All the better, then, that the future of the church and all the hats that need to be worn in this town can be spread across a few more heads.